Skip to main content

How Missing My Deadline Brought life to My Novel

I had a conference call with my publisher about a week before my husband’s emergency brain surgery. I remember pacing outside, in the December cold, with the phone pressed against my ear and trying to carry on a normal conversation while also sneaking glances through the living room windows to make sure my husband and our two young daughters were okay.


Column by Jolina Petersheim, author of THE ALLIANCE
(June 1, 2016, Tyndale House Publishers). She is also the 
bestselling author of THE OUTCAST, which Library Journal called
“outstanding . . . fresh and inspirational” in a starred review and
named one of the best books of 2013. She and her husband
share the
same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that
originated in
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but they
recently relocated
from the mountains of Tennessee to the
Driftless Region of
Wisconsin, where they live on a farm with
their two young
daughters. Jolina blogs regularly at

Later, my editor told me she knew something was wrong because I was not my typically chatty self. She feared I was anxious about my manuscript, THE ALLIANCE, which was giving me more trouble than my two previous books. Though I was indeed anxious about my novel, I was more anxious about my husband.

(4 ways besides query letters you can contact literary agents.)

How could I tell my publisher my husband’s headaches were making it hard to focus on my novel? It sounded like a lame excuse, so I kept those worries to myself until I simply couldn’t.

The night before my husband’s surgery to remove a rare, benign brain tumor, I posted a blog to my website, which I wrote in the small hours while sitting in the bathroom of his hospital room so the tapping of keys wouldn’t wake him up.

I was scheduled for another conference call with my publisher after Christmas, but once they read that post, they contacted me and canceled the call, graciously telling me to instead focus on my family.

Image placeholder title

Don't let your submission be rejected for
improper formatting. The third edition of 
Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript
has more than 100 examples of queries,
synopses, proposals, book text, and more.
Buy it online here at a discount.

For weeks, that’s exactly what I did. I set my manuscript to the side and focused on my husband’s healing and on keeping our home life as normal as possible for our two young girls.

As strange as it may sound, looking back, I can see those excruciating weeks pulled my fiercely independent husband and me together like never before. We cherished our precious family unit with the tenacity of shipwreck survivors, holding each moment close, even through the pain.

After my husband’s incision healed, and the harsh Wisconsin winter thawed, I found that my creativity had returned with the spring. Suddenly, THE ALLIANCErevolving around a Mennonite woman, Leora, who strives to stay true to her beliefs while helping her family survive against insurmountable odds—was my own story. Therefore, the novel went from being a deadline I feared, to a lifeline that allowed me to process what had transpired over the past few months.

I know, without having experienced my husband’s surgery, THE ALLIANCE would neither be as strong, nor would the questions posed be ones I’ve pondered in my own heart.

(Hate writing queries? Here are 4 other ways you can reach out to agents.)

I would, no doubt, have preferred to strengthen the manuscript through some other means; and yet, I’m also aware that the story would not ring as true if I hadn’t lived through some portion of the harsh, survivalist environment depicted in the novel. So I am most grateful for this journey, but if life is bound to imitate art, then—next time—I might switch an apocalyptic setting for a romantic comedy on the beach.


Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers' Conferences:

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PM

Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more 
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying, 
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you'll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

Karen Hamilton: On Cause and Effect

Karen Hamilton: On Cause and Effect

International bestselling author Karen Hamilton discusses the “then and now” format of her new domestic thriller, The Ex-Husband.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: The Ultimatum

Plot Twist Story Prompts: The Ultimatum

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character give or face an ultimatum.

6 Things Every Writer Should Know About Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare and Company

6 Things Every Writer Should Know About Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare and Company

Sylvia Beach was friend to many writers who wrote what we consider classics today. Here, author Kerri Maher shares six things everyone should know about her and Shakespeare and Company.

How Writers Can Apply Business Tools to Their Writing

How Writers Can Apply Business Tools to Their Writing

Author Katherine Quevedo takes an analytical look at the creative process in hopes to help other writers find writing success.

Nick Petrie: On Following the Most Compelling Story

Nick Petrie: On Following the Most Compelling Story

Award-winning author Nick Petrie discusses how he listened to the story that wanted to be told in his new Peter Ash thriller novel, The Runaway.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 596

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a punishment poem.

Jacquelyn Mitchard: On Forgiveness in Fiction

Jacquelyn Mitchard: On Forgiveness in Fiction

Award-winning novelist Jacquelyn Mitchard discusses the chance meeting that led to her new novel, The Good Son.

Sea Bound

Sea Bound

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, write about someone connected to the sea.

writersMarket_wd-ad_1000x300 (1)

Get Published With the Latest Market Books Editions

Get published and find more success with your writing by using the latest editions of the Market Books, including Writer's Market, Poet's Market, Guide to Literary Agents, and more!